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Specter bill would require court oversight of NSA domestic spying

[JURIST] US Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website], chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday that he is working on legislation that would require court supervision of President Bush's domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive; White House position paper]. The bill would allow the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [FJC backgrounder], established under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text], to conduct a reviews of the NSA program every 45 days to ensure that the anti-terrorist surveillance is being conducted properly. The program is currently reviewed regularly, but by the administration, not a court. Specter said that the proposal would "assert Congress' constitutional authority" under Section 8 [text] of Article 1 of the US Constitution, which grants Congress the power "To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces." USA Today has more.

The White House, meanwhile, has agreed to hold briefings for the full House and Senate intelligence committees [AP report] on the NSA program. Only the so-called "Gang of Eight" [Wikipedia backgrounder], consisting of current leaders of the House, Senate, and its intelligence committees, had previously been briefed, but US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Michael Hayden, Principal Deputy Director for National Intelligence, briefed the full House Intelligence Committee Wednesday, and a similar briefing for the Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled for Thursday. The full briefings come after Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) [official website], chairwoman of the House intelligence subcommittee that oversees the NSA, called for a full review of the NSA program [JURIST report]. Last month, the Congressional Research Service, Congress' public policy research arm, released a report [PDF text; JURIST report] concluding that the limited briefings were "inconsistent with the law."

In related news, the Washington Post reported Thursday that a top Justice Department lawyer warned FISC judges at least twice that information gathered through the domestic spying program may have been used to obtain wiretapping warrants from the FISC, despite judges' insistence that it not be used to form the basis of a warrant request. US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly [official profile], who presides over the FISC, has expressed doubt over the legality of the NSA program and had been assured by administration officials that no evidence obtained through the domestic wiretaps would be used to secure FISC warrants. In 2004 and again in 2005, however, Kollar-Kotelly was told by James Baker, the top intelligence expert at the DOJ, that the information had made its way into warrant requests. After the 2004 incident, an infuriated Kollar-Kotelly complained to the Justice Department, prompting a temporary suspension of the program. Kollar-Kotelly, and her predecessor Judge Royce C. Lamberth [official profile] told top administration officials that if the program were to be made public, as it was in December 2005 [JURIST report], there was a significant chance that it would be declared unconstitutional. Kollar-Kotelly and Lamberth also believed, however, that the FISC did not have the authority to rule on President Bush's power to authorize the program. Reuters has more.

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